My hands are shaking….let me just get that out of the way first. A few hours after seeing it for the first time and I’m still overwhelmed and emotional. I’m still swallowing the lump in my throat at the experience I just came out of. I was thinking for a moment that I should just let it sit for a few days and get my thoughts together before I write a review on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
I can’t do that.
Before I really get into the meat of what this movie meant to me, let me get a few things out of the way so that way I won’t have to revisit them or, if you are only here for a recommendation, to get that going too.
Yes, I liked this movie. Yes, I highly recommend seeing it in the theaters. Yes, the movie has flaws and isn’t perfect. Yes, it doesn’t diminish this film in anyway. No, I’m not going to give out spoilers if you decide to keep reading.
Ok, we good? Wonderful. Now, let’s talk about this movie…
The one thing I think that stuck with me throughout the entire film was something I never really gave much thought to. I never really realized how invested I am to the fictional character of Batman. When it came down to the line and I thought that, maybe my inclinations where true…that this was the END of Batman…when that reality seemed to be more than just a rumor…That’s when I started shaking.
You see, I think it rings true with a lot of people and they don’t even see it. We more than just identify with Batman. We are more than just fans and comic nerds. Batman is more than just a symbol and a reflection of human ingenuity and all that diatribe.
When it comes down to it….when faced with the possible end of someone we have grown attached to…we begin to fear that loss. We begin to fear what it means to loose someone we take for granted.
I’m not saying it happens, just so you know….but being that this is the last Batman film in Nolan’s universe, one has to appreciate the fact that it’s something that COULD happen. The gravity of it weighs heavily over this entire film and leaves us with an oppressive feeling all the way through.
Rises takes place eight years after The Dark Knight ended with the death of Harvey Dent and Jokers incarceration at Arkham. In that time, The Batman hasn’t been seen actively patrolling Gotham’s streets as he once did, his decision to take the blame for all the deaths at Dents hand still haunting him….and James Gordon. In that time, we learn that Wayne has retired Batman and has become a crippled recluse, hiding in his reconstructed mansion with Alfred, but also find that Gordon (once more played brilliantly by our favorite Gary Oldman) and the GCPD have managed to keep Gotham clean and free of organized crime, but the price of that peace eats away at Gordon, tearing at his life, and even pushing his family away as they have long left him alone in the city he has protected with everything he has. It’s at this point we are introduced to Bane…..a fearless mercenary who has grand designs for Gotham, it’s people, and The Batman.
You see, it’s not about what we are seeing on screen. It’s not about how “evil” Bane is or how intricate his plans are. What makes Bane a truly menacing villain is that he has a belief. He has faith. Where with the Joker, we saw how calculated madness could bring a city to it’s knees, with Bane, we see a clear mind with the same brilliance who’s plan is far reaching…and who manages to make it actually work without error. In fact, where the Jokers plans could be foiled several different ways, leaving himself open for a random factor to thwart him (such as the people in the ferries not pushing their buttons, ending his scheme then and there), Bane leaves nothing to chance, crushing the spirit of Gotham’s people, giving it hope, and then showing them just how vile and ruthless hope really is.
Tom Hardy’s Bane was maybe the biggest chance Nolan took when it came to picking who was going to be the antagonist for Batman in a third entry, and god….it paid off in every way. It wasn’t so much that you could defeat the man, of that he had that edge physically….but it was that he felt he was righteous, and the power that comes from that sort of belief. A perfect example of this was when he fought Batman in the sewers and simply said “Victory has defeated you.”
There IS more I would like to share about Bane in general, but I want to keep things spoiler free, so for now, I will say that his persona fits the original concept of him when he came out in the comics years ago….a man driven by a single purpose, and who has the means to carry out that agenda with accuracy and tenacity. I have to admit, as I watched the film, there where times when it felt that he was more frighting than the Joker….and believe me, that’s saying a lot.
I can’t continue to talk about the cast without mentioning Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Gotham’s favorite cat burglar, Selina Kyle. Out of the entire casting choices Nolan made, this was the one I was worried about the most. She looked the part, sure, but I wasn’t sure that she was going to be able to play the Selina Kyle I knew. I was, thankfully, proved wrong, as Anne managed to capture everything that was memorable about Catwoman…from her sassy demeanor, seductive confidence, ability to switch her emotions at a glance, and showing that she could hold her own in a fight, letting no one take advantage of her. She didn’t honestly get a lot of screen time (or as much as I was hoping for) to really get in some character development (for example, showing her partnered with Holly Robinson was a great touch, but they never really SAY that’s who it is, leaving nerds like me to point at the screen and whimper, but realizing no one else knew who it was…), but since this was an almost three hour long film, I’m glad they got out what they could and made her interesting, giving her a strong arch, and a major decision towards the end.
Another strong casting choice was Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Officer John Blake, our idealist and the heart of the film. His arch is, arguably, one of the most interesting aspects of Rises and we see a gradual shift in his priorities as he watches what organized law can do when pushed against the wall. In a movie that tries to use hope against everyone, Blake is our one beacon of it…unable to be tarnished. Unwilling to let it go. He is out everyman and our window into the madness of what happens when civilized people begin to eat each other (a chilling reminder of what the Joker had already told us before hand). I loved this character and I wanted to see more of him…and when they make the big reveal at the end, and who he actually IS…..it makes me happy that he’s the one….and that this is the last Nolan Batman film. It’s not unusual for a Batman film to have a cast that overshadows the man himself, but it’s never felt more prevalent now then it does with Blake. Kudos to Nolan for putting him in it and for letting Joseph play him perfectly.
Now, before I move on…I have to make some mentions to one more cast member who had very little screen time…but impacted the movie for me in the most personal way. Michael Caine as Alfred delivers once more, but not in the way one would expect. He only shows up, briefly, for the first act…and then again at the end of the third…but it’s what he says…and his reactions to Bruce’s ego and vanity that make the entire movie difficult to watch. We have, over the course of three films, come to love this old butler who has been Wayne’s surrogate father for most of his life, but to see him break down….to show Bruce that he is more than just his employee…that no matter what pain he puts Bruce though that he loves him….I think it’s this that makes the movie feel as oppressive as it does. In the end, we don’t want to see Alfred hurt….we don’t want to see him have to bury another family member. This relationship between both men is strained and about to break, but not because of anger or hate….and it’s Alfred who made me shed tears in the finally…but of course he did. Michael Caine is one of the finest actors in the world…he has maybe 10 minutes in this movie….and they impacted me the most. When you can do that in a movie this large…then dammit…you have more than talent. You’re a natural.
The film itself has a heavy “fight the power” feel to it, but in the end, it’s message, at least to me, isn’t as “left wing” as others make it out to be. Nolan was smart enough to show both sides of the privilege coin….after all, he spent the last two movies showing us how bad Gotham’s poverty can be…and how well off the rich are in the city. When revolution comes, and Bane leads the people to revolt, I never got the “yeah, kill the rich!” vibe….and I never felt that “well the rich are the ones in the right” feel either. Terrorism, domestic or abroad, is horrific no matter how you slice it. In the end, for me, it wasn’t about making a message about rich or poor…it wasn’t about class…it was about people. How we treat one another. How we interact with each other. It was about living with the decision one man made to use his power for selfish reasons…and the outcome of that decision. It was about how he was able to rise above that selfishness…and show others what real sacrifice is. This was Wayne’s lesson though all three films. The idea of Batman has, and always will be, a selfish one. To think he could take on the world alone, even as a symbol, was foolish and destine to end the way it does. Wayne needed to make change as a man…and though this realization comes with it his redemption.
In the end, this was one of the best ways to end Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and I was more than happy with the outcome. It was a long, emotional, powerful ride for me and one that I was happy to experience. It takes a lot to make me feel the emotions I felt in this film, but he knew how to pluck the right strings for me….and I’m sad that it’s finally over. I suppose, all I have to look forward to now is how Nolan will help shape DC’s other icon when Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel Comes out next year….